Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

10 Most Dangerous Gangs in America

Since the mid-19th century, dangerous gangs have roamed the streets of America’s major cities, exerting their control over criminal enterprises and wreaking havoc on their enemies. According to the FBI, there are 20,000 of these organizations throughout the country with more than 1 million members. As they’ve grown and become more complex by necessity, expanding their money-making endeavors, law enforcement has taken more extensive efforts to curtail their activities. The following are the number-one targets, the gangs with the most power and most potential to disturb the peace. It will require the most committed members of the criminal justice field to take them down.

  1. Mara Salvatrucha (aka MS-13) — all over the U.S.: Most distinctive about the MS-13 is the brutality with which it operates, a tool used to intimidate its rivals. Members are involved in drug distribution, murder, prostitution, rape, kidnapping, robbery, carjackings and home invasions, each of which carry the possibility of innocent civilians being victimized. Founded in Los Angeles during the ’80s, where numerous gangs are headquartered, MS-13 has expanded its operations into at least 42 states. The gang consists mostly of Salvadorians, with the accompaniment of Hondurans, Guatemalans, Mexicans and other immigrants from Central and South America. Although it doesn’t have a concrete leadership structure, different cliques throughout the country keep in contact with each other for recruitment and “business” purposes.
  2. Latin Kings — mostly Chicago, but all over the U.S.: Considered by many to be the best-organized Latin gang in the country, the Latin Kings have a rigid hierarchy and various tribes stationed in different states. Currently, the imprisoned Gino Gustavo Colon, who was locked up on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and other drugs, is said to be the leader. Members strictly adhere to the constitution — the Manifest — which details the three life stages of Nation life — The Primitive Stage, The Conservative or Mummy Stage, and The New King Stage. Because the gang was originally established in Chicago, most members, many of whom are Mexican-American, remain there.
  3. Crips — mostly Los Angeles, with sets in Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma: Until his execution in 2005, charismatic co-founder Tookie Williams was the Crips’ most reputable spokesperson. Despite changing his ways while in prison during the early ’90s, he was still feared by those who understood his previous influence. Established in 1969, his gang has expanded beyond Los Angeles, encompassing between 30,000 and 35,000 members in some 800 sets. An effective marketing tool for the gang, aside from Williams’ publicity, has been the supposed affiliation of rappers such as Snoop Dogg and the late Easy-E. Most Crips are African American, though some white, Hispanic and Asian members have been inducted.
  4. 18th Street Gang — mostly Los Angeles, with some members in other parts of the Southwest: For more than five decades, the 18th Street Gang has participated in everything from distribution of cocaine and marijuana to producing fraudulent Immigration and Customs Enforcement identification cards, the latter of which is testament to its sophistication. With an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 members, many of whom are illegal aliens from Mexico and Central America, it has just recently garnered the attention of the FBI, which has conducted raids across the country in an effort to neutralize it. The FBI considers it a transnational gang because of its reach into Mexico, Central and South America, but little evidence shows there’s a structured global network.
  5. Hells Angels — all over the U.S., with members in parts of Europe and Australia: One of the most famed gangs in America and worldwide — and certainly the most famed biker gang — are the Hells Angels, and with their loud Harleys, large gatherings and collectively intimidating demeanor, have both awed and scared Americans since 1948. Appropriately, the name was inspired by fighting squadrons from both World Wars, and the gang is unabashedly violent, partaking in criminal activities such as extortion, drug dealing and the trafficking of stolen goods. Most impressively, the gang’s influence extends into countries such as Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, The United Kingdom and Australia, among others.
  6. Bloods — mostly Los Angeles, with members in almost every state: It’s a well-known fact that the Bloods are the historical rivals of the Crips. Both battled over territory in Los Angeles as crack cocaine became the money-making drug during the ’80s. Both are divided by sets consisting of the same demographic of young African-American males, whom they recruit from the low-income areas of the city. However, because of the intense infighting between Blood members, the gang is no longer considered a major threat to the Crips, and isn’t as formidable as some of the more prominent gangs in the U.S. — though it’s still dangerous.
  7. Mongols — mostly Southern California, with members in 14 other states, Australia, Mexico and parts of Europe: Formed as an alternative gang for guys who were refused membership with the Hells Angels due to their race, the Mongols somewhat resemble their more popular counterpart, with members spread across the U.S. and chapters overseas. They specialize in the same criminal activities, including extortion and drug dealing, along with any other activity that has potential to be lucrative. Infamously, in 2002, the two gangs engaged in a confrontation in Nevada in which a Mongol and two Hells Angels were killed. In recent years, the FBI has cracked down on the gang. In 2008, for example, Operation Black Rain ended with the apprehension of 38 members.
  8. Nuestra Familia — inside and outside Northern California federal and state prisons: Given the brutality that usually occurs within our prison system, it should come as no surprise that gang activity thrives behind the walls — it’s merely protection. Nuestra Familia formed as a rival to the Mexican Mafia, a similarly-composed prison gang consisting of Mexican Americans. Outside of prison, it earns money primarily through drug trafficking, extortion and racketeering, criminal activities that resulted in the crippling Operation Black Widow, in which 22 members were indicted on RICO charges. During the operation, it was estimated that the gang was responsible for more than 600 murders in the previous three decades. After a decade of regrouping, Operation Knockout crippled the gang in 2010, ending in the arrest of 37 members. Even still, it’s believed that it has more than 2,000 members in prison and more than 40,000 members outside of the walls.
  9. Mexican Mafia — inside and outside California federal and state prisons: The Mexican Mafia is the original Mexican prison gang. As a burgeoning organization in the late ’50s and early ’60s, it united rival gang members from the outside and bullied non-members in California prisons, establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with. Inside and outside of the walls, it’s involved in extortion and drug trafficking, and in addition to its rivalry with Nuestra Familia, it has battled with the Black Guerilla Family and Aryan Brotherhood, now an ally. In the past, it has worked with the Los Angeles crime family, an Italian-American organization, in criminal activities, proving that it’s willing to try new measures to make money. Members of the gang are extremely loyal, as the penalty for disloyalty is often death.
  10. Aryan Brotherhood — inside and outside California, Texas, New York, Arizona, Ohio and Indiana federal and state prisons: With their distinctive swastika tattoos and general bodily adornment of symbols celebrating white pride, it’s not difficult for fellow inmates to identify members of the Aryan Brotherhood. That’s a good thing for their enemies given that they’ve accounted for a large portion of prison deaths in recent years despite existing in relatively small numbers. For the past two decades, the gang has transformed itself into more of an organized crime syndicate, relying on drug trafficking and prostitution as its main sources of income. It’s allied with the Mexican Mafia, and its rivals include Nuestra Familia, the Bloods and the Crips. Subject to several prison round ups during its history, the gang has been difficult to weaken because many of its highest ranking members were already serving harsh sentences when new charges were brought forth.